By Rick Houser –
On a farm there are so many things that need done in a year’s time that it is hard to list each step. Naturally there were things we looked forward to and enjoyed just as there were many, many things that I regretted ever existed. Along with these chores there were sayings and expressions that would in one way or another express our feelings towards these jobs. One such expression said so much about the job but it was my very favorite one, “Make hay while the sun shines.” No truer statement was ever uttered.
I was born in June and I was always told that the night I was born was smack dab in the middle of hay season and Ralph got another hand to help fill his barns. I liked hearing that as it caused me to feel I was needed and I guess in a way I was. In the years I was growing up, Dad would hire someone to come and bale our hay. All we had to do was find a crew of strong men and haul the hay to the barns. The men with the hay rake, hay conditioner, and hay baler called this custom baling and I was infatuated with the operation of the equipment they were using. Men who would come to our farm and do custom work ranked very high in my eyes.
When I was a freshman in high school and entered vocational agriculture, I decided I was going to buy a hay baler and a side delivery hay rake. Shortly after that, I bought a hay conditioner and a new mowing machine. After obtaining this cache of equipment, I took on a task that I learned was deserving of the title of “custom worker” for farmers.
With this said, I would hook up the mowing machine, which was a piece of equipment that operated a cycle bar seven feet long. On the sickle bar was a row of cutting sections riveted onto a length of metal. This was placed on the bar protected by guards that kept the sections from being broken easily. All this fastened to what was known as a “pitman rod” that worked back and forth causing the sections to cut through the hay.
Once all these things were put into motion, mowing the hay looked simple. Swath after swath would fall to the earth in a nice orderly fashion. Next, we ran the hay conditioner over the hay. The conditioner looked like a wringer on a washing machine except it was eight feet long and as the hay went through the two rollers the stems were crushed open and fluffed so the moisture would leave the hay faster and it could be baled sooner. Also, by curing out so fast, less nutrition was lost from the hay and allowed it to go into a bale of hay looking green in color but still be what a cow could look forward to when winter came.
When the hay was ready to be baled, the swaths had to be raked into what we called “wind rows”. The hay rake would put the hay in a constant spiral so that when the baler began the final steps it would feed into the baler as a never-ending supply of hay. When the hay baler would take its place, the farmer would aim its reel over the wind row, allowing the hay to go into the baler in an even balance and feed into the plunger chamber where the hay was compacted and fed into baling twine. When the gauges determined the length was correct, the knotter would kick into gear and an intricate series of movements took place that resulted in the bale being tied and then hitting the ground. If all went well, the procedure would be repeated until an entire field was transformed into a field of hay bales.
Next came the the wagons and a crew to load the bales and unload them when they got them to the barn. It was always true that if a crew could load and unload 100 bales an hour they were a very good crew. I must say that I had a very good crew almost every time I baled. I had worked in hay fields with Charlie and Herb Marshall and my cousin Walt, so we had a good understanding of what was expected and they always delivered.
That takes a load off a high school boy who was supposed to be running the crew because my crew gave me good reason to sit up straight on the tractor and be proud of the job we were doing. Most of the farmers on Fruit Ridge wanted our crew because they were paying for experience and they got all of that for minimum wage, as that was our going rate.
Hay season was the peak of farming as far as I’m concerned. There was all kinds of equipment involved and a crew of men sweating hard. If wise, they wore a long sleeve shirt to keep their arms from being scratched to shreds and work gloves to stop the blisters that baling twine could put on the hands.
I think what I enjoyed most was not only running this equipment but the sounds the equipment made. When in full operation, the mowing machine creates a chattering sound that can mesmerize the driver. Remember that in those years we didn’t have a radio on the fender to keep us company.
A hay rake seemed to deliver a constant click of the metal as the reel turned, but best of all was the hay baler and that was a loud and constant “ka-thump”. That was the plunger pushing the hay into the form of a bale. This was the loudest of the sounds and the one that told us that the hay was ready to be hauled away for storage.
Perhaps the nicest sound was that of the hay crew loading the bales. The constant chatter among the men meant harmony, and as the wagons turned in the direction of the barns, the good feeling of a productive day was there for all of us .
All this time I got to smell the fragrance of freshly mown hay. This is where I have to turn to the words of John Denver, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy!”
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.